9 Tips For Keeping Your Kids Safe In Open Water

Keeping your kids safe in open water can be a huge job with hazards you can't predict, use these tips for guidance!
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Consider this your summertime reminder.

Look, I may be fighting a losing battle in my efforts to keep all three of my boys intact and out of major bodily harm during the summertime but at any rate, I keep on trying cuz that’s what parents do, you feel me?

I’m all stocked up on sunscreen, got enough band-aids and Neosporin to cover every body part 10x over. Heck, I’ve even got ice packs, allergy meds and cortisone cream in my car first-aid kit because YOU NEVER KNOW, OKAY? Also, I’ve laminated my insurance card for easy access.

This ain’t my first rodeo, yo!

Keeping my kids alive and safe is pretty much in line with every parent’s summer goal. We’ve got kids enrolled in swim lessons and do our best to be vigilant at the pool. No shade to the 16 year old lifeguards keeping watch for $8 an hour, but nobody’s got a better kid hazard radar than a mom in a sensible one-piece suit with SPF 500 and a shade hat the size of Texas. We’ve got eyes like a hawk and the reflexes of a jungle cat. NO FUNNY BUSINESS ON MY WATCH, KIDS!

While pool safety is my jam, we definitely spend a lot of time outdoors in the mountains here too because it’s Utah, and that’s what we do. I mean, pools are great but have you ever gone paddle boarding with snow still on the peaks or kayaked across a lake? Epic! We live for this sort of thing. If you enjoy recreating with your people or live near a beach, you’re definitely gonna want to pay special attention to the rest of this post.

My kids are all medium to good swimmers and have had lessons for years, but open water is a whole other level when it comes to hazards and safety issues that you need to be educated about, especially with kids.

Accidental injury is the leading cause of death of children 0-12. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 million children are treated at emergency rooms across the country and more than 9,000 children die each year due to accidental injuries.

While drowning in swimming pools gets significant attention, the fact is that more children and teens fatally drown in open water – especially during the summer months – making it a crucial time of year to share information about open water safety. Make Safe Happen and Safe Kids Worldwide found that despite a 28 percent decrease since 2000, 2016 saw the biggest increase in fatal drownings in children 0-19 years of age in the past five years. Tragically, more than 1,000 children fatally drowned in 2016. An estimated 70 percent of fatal drowning occur between May and September.

Those statistics are sobering on every level, so how can we best avoid turning a swim at the lake with our kids into a real-life tragedy? We can start by being more aware of the 5 hidden hazards of open water when children are in close proximity:

1. Limited Visibility – Water in lakes and ponds can be murky, hiding hazards such as rocks, logs and uneven surfaces. Limited visibility can also make it difficult to see if a child falls in. If lifeguards are present, ask about the safest area to swim. When entering unfamiliar water, go in feet first and wade out slowly.

2. Depth, Distance and Drop-offs – Unlike a pool, open water rarely has depth markings, making it difficult to know if kids are getting into water that is over their heads. When swimming in open water, it can also be hard to perceive distance from the shore. Additionally, while there may be a gradual slope as you enter the water near shore, there might be a sudden drop-off further out. When looking for safe place to swim, choose a designated swimming area and check for signs warning about potential hazards.

3. Currents and Tides – Currents in rivers, creeks and streams can be fast-moving and unpredictable. While some strong currents such as rapids are visible, others can flow under the water’s surface. In oceans or lakes, waves and rip currents can be dangerous. Families should avoid swimming at unsupervised beaches or in areas not designated for swimming. Before allowing kids to swim in open water, make sure they know how to deal with a crashing wave and escape a rip tide or strong current.

4. Water Temperature – Open water is usually colder than water in a pool, which can affect a child’s swimming ability. What’s more, falling into cold water can result in shock, which can lead to panic and even drowning. When participating in boating or other recreational water activities, families should remember to dress for the water temperature, rather than the air temperature, and to always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

5. Weather and Seasonal Differences – Changes in the weather can make open water more hazardous. Heavy rains and flooding can create strong currents and rapidly change the depth and clarity of water. Families should also be aware of man-made storm channels and reservoirs that can be empty one minute and full of water the next. If you are planning an outing that involves open water, check the weather and water conditions before you leave home and again when you arrive. Stay alert for changes while you are on site and always stay out of the water if you hear thunder or see lightning.

Bonus Safety Tips

How can parents ensure their children are safe around bodies of open water like oceans, rivers and lakes? The following tips highlight important actions that can reduce the risk of drowning for families looking to participate in activities in or on open water.

  1. Use designated swimming and recreational areas whenever possible. Professionals have assessed the area, and there are usually signs posted regarding hazards and lifeguard schedules.
  2. Watch kids when they are in or around water. Keep young children and inexperienced swimmers within arm’s reach of an adult. Make sure older children swim with a partner every time.
  3. Make sure children learn to swim. Every child is different, so enroll children in swim lessons when they are ready.
  4. U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket

As parents, we’ve got a lot on our plate especially when school’s out and summer is in full swing. Trying to keep kids entertained and happy is a tall order, but we do what we can to keep our little (and big) people healthy and safe while making memories and appreciating all that Mother Nature has to offer.

If you spend a lot of time in the great outdoors whether it be beach, lake, reservoir or creek, make sure to properly scout out the 5 Hidden Hazards of Open Water first before diving in.

Adventure is out there! Go find it, AND FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE...STAY SAFE!

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This post is sponsored in partnership with Nationwide’s Make Safe Happen Program. You can get more information at MakeSafeHappen.org and through the Make Safe Happen App.

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